You’re fit, you’re experienced and you’re skilled.
Hey, – you’re virtually indestructible, – right?
None of us are.
At some point, something beyond our control is likely to happen, – usually at the worst possible time.
A gear malfunction, separation from our craft, or worse still, a medical emergency…
What do we do if we’re alone, or if our paddling-mates are out of visual contact? What if we’re in a remote location?
These situations have arisen for many paddlers over the years. Some have been fortunate enough to be rescued. Others have paid a high price. A very high price…
You can never remove all risk without removing all fun, but there are some simple steps to follow and some precautions you can take to improve your chances:
1. Obey all of the marine regulations applicable in your area
This goes without saying…
2. Paddle with a mate or group of mates
Paddling with friends is more enjoyable and it means there’s someone there to help if there’s a problem. Of course if you’re even a little bit competitive, it can also help you push just that little bit harder… :-)
3. Check the weather forecast and water conditions before you depart
If you’re going on a long paddle, understanding the weather conditions you’ll encounter can be critical to your preparations. If conditions are going to be challenging, think about and formulate a plan of what you’ll do if things start to get too rough for safety.
4. Tell someone (not in your group) where you’re going and what time you expect to be back
Tell a reliable friend or family member where you’re going, who you’ll be with and when you’re expecting to return. Agree on a course of action that person will take if you don’t get back within a specified timeframe.
5. Have a sticker on your craft with your name and two phone numbers
If your craft washes up on shore without you, having a sticker on the boat with your name, your phone number and a friend’s phone number, may just get people looking for you sooner rather than (too) later. The sticker needs to say something like: “This craft has not been abandoned! If you find it without a paddler attached, please call xxxx. If there’s no answer, please call yyyy URGENTLY! Thank you!
6. Carry a small, cheap mobile phone in a waterproof pouch
Mobile phones are great and so long as you’re in cell range and the phone doesn’t get wet, they can be life savers. However, don’t assume that because you have a mobile with you, you’re safe. Batteries can go flat, signal can be intermittent, conditions may make conversation difficult/impossible, – and if you’re calling for help, you still have to know exactly where you are for rescuers to find you. There may be occasions when you don’t actually know where you are!
7. Carry a Personal Locator Beacon (PLB)
Some people think these are “overkill”. I disagree. If you really need someone to come and rescue you, these things are the “ducks guts”. Technology has progressed to the point where some PLBs are now smaller than your average phone (the KTI for example). They use satellite technology to communicate your distress signal and broadcast your position to authorities so they know your exact location. Their batteries last around 10 years before requiring replacement and they work virtually anywhere on the planet. These really are one of the best safety devices and/or insurance policies you can buy!
8. Know your limits
Challenging yourself and stepping out of your comfort zone is one thing, but throwing yourself in the deep-end and exposing yourself to unnecessary risk is another. Be realistic about your skill level vs the conditions or the difficulty of the session you’re about to undertake. If you’re excited by the challenge, that’s good! But if you’re fearful, uncertain and uncomfortable, then carefully consider the risks and if necessary, don’t be afraid to pull the pin before you get into trouble.
Hopefully, over the festive season we’ll all get a chance to engage in some fun on the water. Take care. Look after yourself and your mates.